Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, November 13, 2000
Albert Joseph Guerard, English professor, literary icon, dies


Albert Joseph Guerard, professor emeritus of English at Stanford, who published both novels and criticism and taught some of today's most famous writers, including John Updike and Alice Hoffman, died Thursday in his home on the university's campus. He was 86.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Dec. 2 in the Albert M. Bender Room on the fifth floor of Green Library's Bing Wing.

Guerard passed away in the same room where his father, former Stanford Professor Albert Leon Guerard, died 41 years ago, said Thomas Moser, professor emeritus of English.

Moser, who studied under the younger Guerard at Harvard University, described him as "passionately interested in the world around him."

"He was crazy about Stanford and Stanford sports. Until the very end, Saturday afternoon was sacred ­ he would be watching Stanford football on television," Moser said.

Guerard, who suffered from emphysema for many years, "was still very much himself until the very end -- a bundle of energy and interest," Moser said.

Colleagues remember Guerard as scholar with expansive interests in the field of literature and as a teacher devoted to his students.

After joining the faculty at Stanford in 1961, he launched the university's first freshman seminar program, which ran for 13 years. As many as 400 students were involved in it annually.

He also worked to get funding for the Voice Project, a program that brought professional writers to campus to teach freshmen.

From 1965 to 1967, he co-directed what was then called the Freshman English program.

"I would say the theme of the program [under Guerard] was the 'personal voice,'" Moser said. "He thought every individual had ­ cloaked in there somewhere -- his or her own voice that the teacher tried to . . . encourage the student to find."

Moser also said that Guerard, as a teacher, "wanted to elicit student participation."

"Even in a lecture course, where there couldn't be discussion, he made it feel personal," he said.

Asked during a 1979 interview whether he thought it was possible to teach creative writing, Guerard said:

"Yes, so long as the writer-teacher doesn't think of it as a matter of techniques to be passed on, tricks of the trade, formulas for success. The process is empirical. Every genuine writer has a voice of his own -- an inward voice that stems from his temperament as well as from experience. The experienced teacher listens to that voice, helps bring it out."

Guerard was born in Houston in 1914. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1934 from Stanford and a master's from Harvard in 1936. He taught for a year at Amherst College before earning his doctorate from Stanford in 1938. He taught at Harvard until 1961 and at Stanford from 1961 to 1985. His students included writers John Hawkes, Frank O'Hara and Harriet Doerr.

Interested in the literary schools of modernism and postmodernism, Guerard developed Stanford's interdisciplinary doctoral program in Modern Thought and Literature, which still survives.

In an interview with the Associated Press, critic John Simon called his former tutor at Harvard "a vastly underestimated figure on our cultural horizon."

"It would be nice if, however belatedly, he were recognized for his body of work. He's one of those people that everybody has read a little bit of," Simon said.

Guerard published nine novels, six books of criticism and a memoir called The Touch of Time: Myth, Memory and the Self, as well as a number critical essays. He was preparing to submit a volume of some of his critical writing for publication when he died, Moser said.

Guerard had held the record for the most novels written by any living U.S. critic and the most critical books of any other living American novelist, his daughter Lundie Guerard said.

He was asked once during an interview whether it was unusual for a writer to be both novelist and literary critic:

"I suppose it is," he replied. "Yet there is the same psychologizing bent in both kinds of writing ­ the same interest and ambiguity. And both kinds of writing have had a very marked effect on my teaching."

Guerard's novels include Maquisard and Night Journey, the subjects of which drew from his experience in psychological warfare intelligence during World War II; The Exiles, about a conscientious assassin during political turmoil in the Caribbean; Christine/Annette; and Hotel in the Jungle, a historical novel set in 1870, 1922 and 1982.

Guerard's critical books include The Triumph of the Novel: Dickens, Dostoevsky and Faulkner, which looks at three authors who broke away from the tradition of realism, and Conrad the Novelist.

Guerard succeeded the late English Professor Yvor Winters in the literature chair named after the senior Guerard, who taught at Stanford from 1906 to 1913 and 1925 to 1946.

The younger Guerard also had a strong connection to France, where his father was born, and spent about five years of his life there on teaching stints and sabbaticals.

Guerard received a 1977-78 Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for distinguished teaching and a 1983 Walter J. Gores Award for excellence in teaching. In 1998, Guerard received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Bliss Carnochan, professor emeritus of English at Stanford, said Guerard and the late Professor Emeritus Ian Watt "did a great deal for the standing of the Stanford English Department in the eyes of the world."

He described Guerard as a "charismatic figure" who "was generous and open to new ideas."

In a 1982 Phi Beta Kappa address, Guerard talked about the role of literature and the humanities in the real world:

"We have Caspar Weinberger and others suggesting that we can 'prevail' in a protracted war in spite of 50 or 100 million Americans dead. At an intellectual level, this suggests a failure to consult history, and the lesson that governments do not survive catastrophic defeat, which nuclear war would do to both sides. At a visual level, it is a failure to see what 50 or 100 million deaths 'look like.' . . . The greatest writers take us beyond our common sense and selective inattention, even to paradoxical sympathy with the lost and the damned ­ take us, that is, to the recognition of humanity in its most hidden places."

Guerard is survived by his wife of 59 years, the short-story writer Maclin Bocock, and three daughters: Collot Guerard of Washington, D.C.; Nini Guerard of Santa Rosa; and Lundie Guerard of Boulder, Colo.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Maclin Bocock­Albert Guerard Fiction Prize, c/o Department of English, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2087.